Building a Strong Portfolio

  • SVS OG

    @Sean_H I’m no pro but as a counter argument, I would like to ask “How many Kadir Nelsons are out there? How many illustrators get to dabble in a myriad of industries?” Kadir makes amazing work but it’s evident to me that he’s more of the exception to the rule. He’s an illustration rockstar. As for most of us beginning artists, we might find a safer route by focusing in one field and then perhaps branching out in the future.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Sean_H Thanks for the reply. I'll try to elaborate on this a little:

    Kadir Nelson is a great example of an artist that actually emphasizes the point we were making on the podcast. Kadir's work is highly usable in almost all commercial applications, so that he why he has had success in so many different genres.

    The key is finding where personal interest (style) overlaps with commercial viability.

    But let's try your example out and we can see where it might not work out so well. If I were to try and find my style by just following whatever I wanted to do, what happens if the work I arrive at ultimately has no commercial possibilities? Then you are right back at the beginning and need to start over if you want to make a career out of it.

    Note, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing work you want to do and NOT becoming a professional illustrator. But, once you say you want to work, you have to acknowledge what the marketplace is doing in order to succeed.

    Anther side note: if making any work feels like compromising your artistic vision, then I'd use that as a guide for changing what choices you are making. You are totally right that if you are just making work that isn't authentic, then it will be hollow and probably wont work out too well in the long run.

  • SVS OG

    This episode was so good. The story at the end by Will was amazing. Such dedication.

  • @Sean_H like nyrrylcadiz I'm no pro but my way of thinking about it is two fold.

    First there are a lot of successful artists that work across fields, in this podcast alone they comment about working on: Picture books, board games, individual artworks to be sold as artbooks or prints at conventions, concept art etc. However I get the feeling that all of them also started by focusing on one field, for @Lee-White it was picture books but for @Will-Terry it was editorial art. As they became more skilled and experienced they started diversifying their fields and art directors had more confidence in these veterans so could offer them jobs with less visual evidence.
    So to summarise start by focusing on proving yourself in one field and dream of all the others you can try once you have proven yourself.

    Secondly the field you choose should be a natural fit for you and so not really compromising. This is one I struggle with and I would also love other people's take on it. I often get distracted by what I think sounds ok and workable. Such as a period when I did colouring books because they sounded like something I could do and colouring books were really popular at the time, but interest in my colouring books was luke warm and in the end I started looking for greener pastures because it wasn't something I was really invested in. At the moment my focus is on middle grade/chapter book art because I feel it is a good fit for the art I naturally tend to gravitate towards making and I feel less SCWBI artists tend to focus on it so it might not be quite as glut a market.
    An exercise I was once recommended and which I still do every couple years helps me better understand where my preferences lie (This WILL change). The goal is to make a folder on your computer and save over 500 images into this folder, they all have to be images that when you looked at them you went 'this is it, this is what I want to make', it's not enough for you to respect the artist or think the art is impressive it has to be the art that most resonates with you. Then when you have your 500+ start analysing those images, what is common content? what is common purpose (book covers, concept art, stand alone illustrations etc) Once you have finished analysing you should have a better idea of where you want to head.

    I hope this helps and I would love to hear other people's take on it because I can understand it feels so risky and confining to not try every possible avenue for work.

  • Great episode! Appreciate the practical advice, and I enjoyed the business plan restaurant analogy.

    One thing I'm curious about... when Lee was talking about narrowing down your target markets, his example was something like "children's books. New York, Chicago"... how much do you feel geographic location plays into what markets illustrators can work in? Of course the internet is so amazing for connecting people, and as a student I'm thrilled to be able to take online classes and learn from people from all over the world. But do art directors still tend to work with professional networks within their own cities?

    I'm also curious about cultural differences between different book markets. My understanding so far is that the USA children's book market can be quite different to children's book markets across Europe. (In preferred art styles and subject matter, pay, population size). I did some searching in the forum archives here, and a couple of discussions came up - but I'd love to hear if anyone has any anecdotes or stories about working in different markets? (either different cities or countries)

  • SVS OG

    I just listened to this episode this morning and I loved it! I'm taking notes so I can make pieces that address the criteria listed.

    Question: I have longed realized that my problem is producing enough pieces to have a portfolio to critique. Part of that is style paralysis, for which I told myself, "Just finish some pieces and you'll figure it out eventually." But there's a bit of a vicious cycle because not having a defined approach to making images slows production. Also, I know enough to look at my work and see the difference between the quality of the work I can do right now and the quality I want (style aside). And thus I'm never pleased enough with anything to put if in my portfolio. And although I'm improving, this lack of, or very slow, production has been going on for two or three years now and it's really getting to be a problem.

    One thing I'm doing is taking classes, but I don't have a consistent style even for those.

    Anyone got some ideas to get me out of this stuck place? If so, I would be eternally grateful!

  • SVS OG

    @SarahF About different book markets: I live in Italy, have been to the Bologna Book Fair and taken some classes here, so I can attest that there is a different sensibility, if not a different style.

    Here are a couple of links to what is probably the highest quality children's publisher in Italy:

    Orecchio Acerbo catalog

    Kite Edizioni, an imprint of Orecchio Acerbo

    You can also find information on the Bologna Book Fair website, such as this list of all publishers who display there. I have the page set to Italy, but you can change it:

    Bologna Children's Book Fair exhibitor directory

    I once heard someone call the style here "intellectual." I would almost call it surrealistic, and I find there is a common style that is more rendered and has more static poses, but that's not everyone, of course.

    Here's a major French publisher. I like the French style!

    Gallimard Jeunesse

    What I can tell from anecdotal experience is that in a country with a smaller market, the overall available audience plays a big part in opportunity (or lack thereof). If you can imagine, it's even harder to make a living in illustration here than in the US, because you just aren't going to get the sales you would in a larger market, and so your advance will be tiny compared to the US. Basically you hope your book will get translated into English. And likewise, many books available in bookstores here are translations of books that were originally written in English, because it's cheaper to translate than it is to support a book from the ground up.

    Hope this is helpful in getting you started.

  • @CukiArtist @Lee-White @nyrrylcadiz @Coreyartus

    A belated thank you all for your thoughts and perspectives. I've read each and every word. Wow, truly what a supportive environment!

    I feel like I've learned a lot just from this thread, thank you!

  • @LauraA Thank you for the comprehensive reply! These links are fantastic and so helpful, definitely gives me a lot to explore. Thanks for your anecdotal thoughts and observations too.

    I'm in Australia and just starting to research the book market here - there's a great local publishing industry, but from browsing bookstores and the library we seem to import US, UK and various translated European books as well. I guess I'm just curious to look at children's books from around the world... there's so much beautiful work in the Orecchio Acerbo and Gallimard Jeunesse catalogs, thanks again for the links.

    As to your question about being in a stuck place of style paralysis / slow production - I don't have experience with putting together a portfolio (not quite at that stage yet!) but I can certainly relate a lot to this part: "not having a defined approach to making images slows production". If it's any comfort, you're not alone here! It takes me SUCH a long time to draw or paint anything as I'm still learning the techniques. This comic always cheers me up when I feel things are moving so slowly:

  • SVS OG

    @SarahF I like it! Thanks!!

  • Thanks for this one guys! I'm about to finish a children's book and wanted to take a whole month to create at least 31 illustrations for my portfolio and social media and see if I'm able to reach more people to get more Children's book stuff, and and the list Terry gave us is just perfect. Cheers!

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